29 December 2011

The City of New Orleans

For the longest time, I considered Las Vegas my favorite travel destination...

Until now.

I have visited the city of New Orleans twice in the last seven years.  So, I guess I'm kind of an expert now.  Sort of.

Mostly, New Orleans is known for this:

The multiple-storied, wrought iron balconies.  The debauchery of Bourbon Street.  Vampire novel settings.  Hurricane Katrina.

Yes, yes, yes.  All that and more.  History, culture, beignets, shopping, food, people-watching.

And really, that's only the tip of the travel iceberg in the Big Easy.

22 December 2011

Christmas Resolution

Okay, so I know it's tradition to make New Year's Resolutions.  Well, I've never done that.  I probably won't start now.  I mean, honestly, a whole year?  Sometimes it's hard for me to stick with things for a day, let alone a whole year.

But, I do feel it might be worth my energy to craft a few resolutions for this weekend.  Tonight, I will be traveling to my in-laws - gods give me strength.

Resolution #1: I resolve not to overeat.  And if I do, let me glut on carrot sticks and fruit, instead of cookies, candy, and Chex party mix.

Resolution #2: I resolve to keep my immediate family at the forefront of all doings this weekend, as opposed to the "the whole, entire family" mindset.  If we get bored, we'll play a game, take a walk, go for a ride, etc....without anyone else, if need be.  There's no reason why we should limit ourselves when all Grandpa wants to do is nap on the couch or the men want to go pheasant hunting.

Resolution #3: There were two scenarios last year in which I felt quite put out (both of them on my oldest child's behalf).  I resolve this year to either A: get over it and move to Resolution #2 or B: take action, say something and be done with it.  I won't swallow it, push it down, just to let it fester bitterly over a year's time.

There.  That seems doable.

09 December 2011

Cleaning, Completion, and a Complex Conundrum

Ooh.  First post of December.  Boy, have I been lax.  Here are the three major things that have happened to me since my last post:

1. The cluttered, messy state of my office has been grating on me, and especially, this last week.  I mean, the Feng Shui was just way, way off.  So today, finally, I was able to declutter, vacuum, dust, and revitalize my workspace.  Ahhhhhhhh....

2. The reason I was able to devote part of the afternoon to office-cleaning was that there was nothing for me to grade.  I finished the last few papers earlier today, and with that...my semester is pretty much at an end.  Okay, yes, final exams are next week...but I can manage that.  All I know is...I have NO grading or lesson planning to do this weekend.  Oooooohhhhhhh....

3.  Two out of three ain't bad.  Meatloaf's words have rung true today.  I am trying to get a realistic grip on a situation here on the homefront.  My oldest son is playing his first year of junior high basketball, and is on the "C" team.  He is one of the better players on the C squad, and is really able to be a leader on that team.  Plus, he's happy because he plays quite a bit. 

However, he had a game last night and so, there was no practice today.  But, after emailing a parent-friend of mine, turns out some of the kids (the "A" squad) did have practice this morning.  What's going on here, right?  My puzzlement soon led me to suspect that maybe my son's "C" squad had been "exempted" from practice on purpose.  And that ensuing train of thought led me to thoughts of outrage and injustice.

I'm at that point right now of deciding whether I should take action or not.  Talk to the coach or not.  Let it go or not.  As of now, my husband and I are waiting until the next called-off practice, at which point we will totally resort to juvenile behavior (a.k.a show up at practice to see if team is there).  Our course of action stems from there.

Icky, right.

28 November 2011

The Caterpillar: A Metaphoric Parable

You all know how the caterpillar works.  She inches along, plodding, just wanting to get through this day, the next day....and so on.

Then, one day (quite unexpectedly, I imagine) she begins that biological process of metamorphosis.  Wrapping herself up in a cozy, little cocoon, she is cut off from the world for days.  And, then that day comes when she breaks free and reemerges as a butterfly.

That's always where the story ends.  This parable is told often to children who are entering that "awkward" stage of their lives...someday they too will metamorphose from a slow, chubby caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly.

Except, nobody ever tells these kids that being a butterfly (or adult) can be just as awkward as being a caterpillar.  Nobody ever mentions that being a butterfly is actually a bit more arduous and full of responsibility.  Pollination?  That's a pretty serious task.  Sure hope they can handle it.

So...now that we're thoroughly depressed...let's bring it back around.

November is a month of metamorphosis for me.  I usually withdraw into the tight little circle of my own home, disregarding much of what happens in the outside world.  Part of this process is because of National Novel Writing Month, where many crazies like myself hole up to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days.  But, with the onset of colder weather and the holidays, it's just a natural time for me anyway to "cocoon" myself up, so to speak.

Now, here at the end of November, I'm preparing to emerge from back into world.  Like the butterfly, though, there is work to do.  Responsibilities, jobs, duties, chores all await

Nothing like a little Henry David Thoreau Transcendentalism to start your day off right!

11 November 2011

Epiphany #56 - In Which I Figure Something Out, But It Probably Means My Life Will Change

You what's weird?

It's November 11, and I have not pulled out any Christmas decorations.  I have not played any Christmas music.  I have not had a hankering to bake things.

Yeah, that's weird.

Anyway, onto the sublime title of today's blog.

For a few years ago, discontent was starting to seep into my professional life.  Teaching wasn't as inspiring as it used to be; I was losing my passion and merely "going through the motions".  So, I took action.  I taught at the high school level only part-time, and I started adjunct teaching at the college.  I told myself that maybe I needed a change of scenery, not to mention a change of clientele.  But still, some unrest lingered...

Last May, I resigned my high school position for good, and remained an adjunct.  So now I'm only working three, maybe four hours a day.  Life should be good, right?

But, no, I'm still not feeling it.  Many days come with some kind of mental pep talk to get myself into that classroom (once I'm there, I'm fine). 

Concurrent with this timeline of events is that of me and my journeys with food.  Food and nutrition are fascinating to me, and I feel sometimes as if I've entered into a lifelong love affair with the things.  And this feeling has grown since a few years ago.  Consequently, here became the dilemma slash paradox I needed to figure out:

Why am I deliriously happy to spend a Sunday morning and afternoon in my kitchen, cooking, simmering, marination, and baking - and yet I can hardly get my game face on for two, maybe three, hours of classroom teaching a day?

Here's the answer that came to me about a week ago: the difference is product.

When I'm in the kitchen, baking cookies, sauteing vegetables, or baking bread, there is an end product.  My family, who then consumes it, provides immediate feedback.  It's not always good feedback either.  But, in the end, there is a tangible fruit of my labors.  I usually know right away what worked and what didn't, and I can troubleshoot for next time (less water, more time in the oven, etc).

In the classroom, though?  There's not such a product.  Sure, there's student papers and assignments, but those products often have very little to do with me.  Sometimes, they have very little to do with the students as well.  And, when there is a problem, I might be able to troubleshoot it, but many times I cannot.  There are often variables involved I can't contend with (abject lack of ability, lack of motivation).

And, well, knowing what I know now, that I thrive on seeing a finished product, be it poor or not, it's no wonder education has lost it appeal.

So, yep, that's where I am.  I'm nearly 37 years old, and I think I am about to make a career change.  And I don't mean a lateral change...

10 November 2011

Current Events

I can't think of the last time I'd come across a bit of news that worked me up like I was last night.  Originally, I woke up this morning, and planned on dedicating this entire post to the denigration of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and the Penn State administration.  See, they've been in the news lately and here's why:

Allegations have come light regarding Jerry Sandusky (Paterno's defensive coordinator from 1969-1999)...namely, that he sexually abused several youths over a 15 year period.  Some of the alleged incidents occurred on the Penn State campus.

Just last night, Paterno (Penn's coach for the last 46 years) was fired by the Board of Trustees, along with the school's president and some other administration who had been informed of the incidents occurring on campus (at least one in 2002).

Here's my take on the whole thing.  While I certainly don't condone Sandusky's alleged actions, I am more furious with Paterno and the Penn State administration.  A grad assistant walked in on Sandusky assaulting a boy in the Penn State shower room.  The assistant told Paterno, who informed the athletic director, who informed the president...who then proceeded to do nothing, but tell Sandusky he could not bring youths onto Penn State's campus.

Sandusky's going to get his due share.  I truly believe that.  I don't worry much about him.  But I want the other guys to pay too.  Because I can barely squelch that helpless feeling that no matter what great things I do for my kids, no matter how much I try to keep them safe - in the end, I can't do anything about the deviants out there.  But even worse, I can't do ANYTHING about the other adults who want to protect the deviants.

There.  End rant.  I shall now let it go.

31 October 2011

On Hiatus. Sort Of.

It's nearly November.

And that means:

NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth



50,000 words = 30 days.

I will try to update here when I can, but for now, wish me luck...I am nervous for several reasons:

1. This is an idea that came to me as I was reading the bio of Ben Franklin.  That means there's not been much time to research.  And there's quite a bit of research.

2.  In general, I know how I want the novel to end.  And that is about it.  Eeek.

3.  I'm writing in a couple of genres I've never been in before: historical fiction and young adult.

4.  It's utterly possible that I might be called upon to write some teen romance scenes (nothing explicit)...and that is something I don't think my brain is geared towards at all.  (Now, erotica...that I could probably pull off)

So.  Here's to a happy novelistic November!

20 October 2011

What I Didn't Learn In School

Forgive me...this would have come out last night...but well, read the corollaries below.

So, tonight, I'm supposed to talk about Ben Franklin.  I will make the best effort I can, but a few things are set against me:

1. I attended a workout class at my local YMCA tonight.  The title of the class?  Body Assault.  Funny, I know.  I do feel like I've been assaulted.  I am particularly feeling depleted of energy, and so we will see how the exhausted brain functions.

2.  I finished the 'Conclusions' portion of the biography nearly 24 hours ago, which wrapped up BF's life in a nice neat nutshell (with modern commentary).  Thus, it's been near two days since I've read the "good stuff".  I hope I remember enough of what I wanted to say to sound coherent.

So, let's get to it.  I'm going to write this up as it makes logical sense to me - in the form of lists.

What I Admire About B. Franklin:

1. Industrious.  He was a really hardworker, and he really believed that ethic was the key to success.  He “retired” in his forties, but he still continued to be active (especially in Paris).

2.  Clever.  A 14-year-old boy writing anonymous, satirical letters under the psuedonym Silence Dogood (a middle-aged widow woman)?  On top of that - the letters being really popular?  Yeah, clever, indeed.

3. Diplomatic.  Maybe this falls under wisdom, but he knew when to compromise, when to be quiet, and when to ardently advocate.  I still can't believe all the plates this guy was spinning as he enlisted France's help during the American Revolution, not to mention the finagling of the Paris Peace Treaty.  On top of that, the tiptoe-tightwalking he did during the drafting of the Constitution.

4.  Pragmatic/Practical.  This might be my favorite BF quality.  Over and over again he demonstrated a desire to do things and produce things that would increase man's productivity and comfort.  He ultimately believed working together, being part of a community, was far favorable to operating in one's own sphere.

5.  Philanthropic.   He was very civic-minded.  He began clubs, programs, and schools, all with that practical benefit of advancing others.

On the other hand,

1.  The last seventeen years of his wife's life, Ben spent fifteen of those abroad in various diplomatic capacities.  Even though she (Deborah) wrote to him, speaking of her declining health, he chose not to return to America to her.  He also chose not to return even when his only daughter (or son, for that matter), married or when they later birthed his grandchildren.  Even though he completely able to make the voyage, and the business that carried him overseas in the first place was not urgent.

2. He was very adamant about taking his two grandsons to France (one was 17, one was 7) during the American Revolution.  He accompanied them, to serve as America's ambassador/negotiator near Paris.  Shortly after arriving, BF shipped the seven-year-old off to an academy in Switzerland.  Even when the child grew frail and introverted from loneliness, homesickness, etc., Franklin did not send for him, visit him, or increase communications to him.

3. He was not adverse to the practice of nepotism, as he ceaselessly tried to procure jobs for his son (until they stopped speaking for good), grandsons, son-in-law, nephews, etc.

And…as is typical, I'm now run out of steam on this.  Lest I fall victim to Bill Clinton syndrome, let me say that I understand that a person's public life may be very different from their private lives, and that we shouldn't always be so quick to intermingle the two.  However, the Isaacson bio is very clear: Ben Franklin was eager to mix public and private, business and pleasure whenever possible…so, should we  as well, to follow his example?

That BF was a self-directed, hardworking compromiser is truth.  That he was curious, meticulous, practical is well-documented and discussed.  That he was perhaps the most important players during the drafting of the Constitution is no hyperbole.  That's the rhetoric we all learned.  What point would there have been in learning about his illegitimate child, innumerable flirtations and dalliances with younger women (while his wife was living, and then when she passed), and his remonstrances to his wife to be “frugal” while he lived an indulgent, indolent life in France?  None, probably.

History is indeed written by the winners.

18 October 2011

A First Here @ WYWH - A Book Review

Today's blog entry is misleading, I admit.  I've talked about books here before.

And, actually, now that I think about it...I really won't be 'reviewing' the book I've read, per se.  I want to discuss the subject, not the writer, per se.

I suppose the honorable thing to do here is change my title.  But I don't think I will.  It's America, and my founding fathers drafted the Constitution to ensure I could make such frivolous decisions as these...

Speaking of Founding Fathers, I've been reading (egads! - of my own interest and volition) Walter Isaacson's Biography of Ben Franklin.  I've enjoyed the 500-page tome, actually, and am actually nearing the very end of it.  Thus, I plan on discussing in tomorrow's blog post.

I will say, though, the jury is out.  I think I like Ben Franklin, but on the other hand, I'm pretty sure he pisses me off.

Until tomorrow!

16 October 2011

Egg On My Face

It has been a long time since I've had to admit embarrassment.  Publicly, that is.

Of course, the aforementioned embarrassment has occurred in real-time; thus, I don't even really have to mention it here.  But, I shall, so that others after me will take note.

Allow me to reiterate that important adage: Everything in moderation.

Remember a couple of posts back when I was raving about the FanStory website?  I could write and post and receive feedback and enter contests to my heart's content...and I went on and on about how Productive I was?

Okay, my fervent ardor was waned.  A little.  Last week I got caught up in entering contests, particularly of poetry, of which I am not terribly skilled at writing.  I composed a clever limerick that I thought was rather catchy...and I didn't do as well as I would have liked.  In my darkest hour, I surmised that a conspiracy was afoot...pockets of friends at FanStory vote for each other's entries, thus keeping the new blood out.

It was then I realized that I'm writing for the wrong reasons.  I should be writing to write, not writing to win fake member dollars in a contest.

And for goodness sake, I must lay off the poetry.  Someone is trying to tell me something.  But, for your own edification, I will reprint my limerick here:

Spelling Is Important

If there is a skill one should do well,
I recommend knowing how to spell.
When mistake is 'mystic'
or public is 'pubic',
it is essential, as you can tell!

15 October 2011

The Roller Coaster Slows Down...

This weekend is especially significant.

My oldest son and foreign exchange student have spent most of the fall running cross country for the school, and that season has come to an end (for them, anyway).  Thus, early morning trips to and from practice (not to mention Tuesday night meets) are no longer part of our daily itinerary.  And, after this weekend's performances, the two younger children will no longer attend the after-school theatre program.

Yes, we still contend with the juggernaut that is known as soccer...but, as the musician Meatloaf once said, "two out of three ain't bad."

I confess, these last couple of weeks have been bizee...but especially dismal in one regards.  Food.  I've been so ashamed...I can't even post about it at my food blog.

Grocery bills have been much lower this month than last...for it's for a bad reason...we've gone out to restaurants way too much.

However, I am positive, with the lightening of the load, so to speak, that is about to change...

09 October 2011

Rethinking My Position

This latest reflection/rumination is courtesy of my son, who is seven.  This morning he is reading an old-school Choose Your Own Adventure book and comes across the word 'victim'.  He asks me what it means.

I tell him to look it up in the dictionary.  He replies with, "but you have one on your computer."  I am taken aback, but I come back with "yes, but I'd like you to learn how to use a dictionary."

Later we are examining the book, and in the space of three minutes, we've found the word and its definition (being a Collegiate version, not kid-friendly).  It occurs to me the exact same result could have been secured in seconds with my online dictionary.

Yes, some of you might be saying, but he needs to know how to use a dictionary (book).

Does he?

It's my first inclination to scream "YES" from the rooftops of the world.  Until I stop for a moment and ask why?  Does he need to know how to use a dictionary because it's an indispensable, crucial 21st century skill?  Or because it will make him a more rounded, less one-sided person?  Because it enables him to depend less on technology? 

Or because I'm holding on to some ancient belief?

When I slow down enough to really think this through, I find I cannot construct an argument that exclusively supports using the print dictionary over the digital one...or really, that he even needs the skill of using a print source. 

My generation, the one who prides themselves on being able to "bridge the gap", as it were, is facing a burgeoning dilemma: what beliefs and practices should we hang to for dear life and try to instill in our children, and what beliefs/practices should be abandon to the winds of change?

My answer to this question changes daily.  I don't know if there will ever be agreement.

08 October 2011

Another Endeavor

Oh yes, folks, the plates are a-spinnin!

The precarious balancing act continues: hosting a foreign exchange student, shuttling four kids to and fro, teaching part-time, managing house full-time...and to add the latest:


I mean, besides what I do here.  I heart blogging - I want you all to know that.  But, the kind of writing I'm doing these days is geared more towards an audience...as opposed to me going on about whatever topic I feel like (usually my husband and bread).

I've joined a website called FanStory.  I paid a year-long membership fee, and with that, I keep a portfolio, enter contests, review and provide feedback for other poets, authors, and novelists.  Reviewing pieces of writing allow me to collect member dollars, which I can then use to promote my own pieces of writing or enter certain contests.

In addition to the several contests a month, there are also creative writing prompts every day.  For example, here are the three on the block currently:

1. Disco Inferno Poem: For all of you disco fans... Write a poem of any form or style in appreciation of the disco era. Burn, baby, burn! 

2. Write a Naani poem. A Naani consists of 4 lines, the total lines consists of 20 to 25 syllables.

3. Oh, you are...are you?  Write a humorous free verse or free style poem about YOU, as though you are talking to yourself! You should start every stanza (except your last stanza) with "You are..." 

Short story contests often crop up as well.  Many opportunities exist for writers to practice their craft.  And, everything a writer posts here receives feedback...always appreciated by a genuine writer.

I haven't won any contests yet, but I've written more stuff than I have in the last six months.  I feel creative, I feel like I'm writing with a purpose, and it's bringing me enjoyment.  Here's a sample of the poetry I've written and submitted in the last week:

The Paradox

The world lay at my feet.
I could be anything that I want?
My dream job? When I grow up?
Now, that required some thought.

No factory job for me,
although it's what I knew.
My dad, you see, was a laborer,
a job I didn't want to do.

My elementary school years,
speedily came and went,
and I had but one desire.
Teaching would make me content!

Oh, but wait! In the fifth grade,
I dreamed one crazy dream.
I loved the stars, so - Astronomer?
But, I had not the brain, it seemed.

Then, in high school, I had the vision -
I'd edit books of history!
But that, too, lost its luster.
Another dream bereft of glory.

Soon I approached the career crossroads,
and my college graduation.
No further studies because of grades.
So, I wound up in education.

Here I am. I've worn many hats.
I've been a mom, a poet, a chef,
a philosopher, a professor.
I often wonder what's left.

I'd love to be a novelist,
or hero of the human race.
But there are days I'd settle for me,
content to maintain my own space. 

This haiku was submitted for a Humorous Haiku contest:

Seven-Year-Old Boys
my son, distracted
about his Pokemon cards,
leaves home without pants

This free verse piece was submitted for a "Faith" poetry contest:

Perpetual Cycle

This time of year
finds me feeling
somewhat pulled apart,
like an old ragdoll -
weary and weathered,
undone at the seams.

To quell those
naggling disquiets,
I find Autumn.

Her answers come,
scrawled along the
veins of single leaves.
They flutter to Earth
in a timeless dance,
hoping to join the others.

And I am reminded - that which
blooms forth from the Earth
eventually returns to it.
Including me.

Autumn's arms encircle me,
those towering elms and oaks.
Silent, steadfast, stout.

But - every minute brings change:
whistling wind shifts a leaf,
disturbs an elderly branch,
and lays the bark bare.

I, too, never stop changing.
Yet I endure as well.

The gallant prairie tallgrass,
now in its tattered brown raiment
after a summer of verdant green robes,
is but one sign of the imminent sleep
before the wakening joy of Spring.

And I understand -
all these living things
turn their hopeful faces
to the life-giving sun
and lift their arms
towards the light.
I am no different.

Although the Earth dies
for a time,
how else can she prepare
for new life?

So, I find hope in
Earth's endless death
and rebirth,
knowing that life
has no other mystery.

And this piece was submitted in a "Witty Epitaph" contest:

Here lies the invaluable Mister Comma.
Pause, for a moment of silence –
this world will, never be the same!
He suffered misuse, and abuse;
but loved eating dogs and playing, games.

I've been having fun, as you can see.  But, I'm also rediscovering my long-lost voice.  In addition to the sundry poetry contests I'm entering, I'm also editing and submitting my novel, as well as working on some short story pieces.

As author Ernest Hemingway says, "There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter (or laptop) and bleed."  Truly.

28 September 2011

Yay! Finally!

Remember that we traveled to Alaska in early June?  Well, we purchased a piece of art there and had it shipped here.  That painting arrived about three weeks ago.  Then, two days ago, it was finally hung in our house!


Hard to see the blueyness of the painting.  The picture itself is a lovely, artsy rendition of seals, fish, and other Alaskan critters.

The blue is more obvious here.  The picture hangs in our front room.

19 September 2011

Television Helps Clean

It's not what you think it is!

I have somehow managed to escape the last few years without watching an entire episode of the TV show 'Hoarders'.  I caught maybe half of a program about a year ago, but never a full hour.

Until tonight.

Let me tell you, if ever you need motivation to clean, clear, declutter, disinfect, or pitch, watching this show will do it.  One woman hoarded animals - over fifty dogs and cats lived in her house, which was absolutely trashed.  Cockroaches, feces, filth...all over.  Pestilence is a word rarely used in everyday language anymore; however, it perfectly summarizes this house's condition.  The other feature was a gentleman whose house ended up being condemned.  It was just plain dangerous to live there.

The older I get, the more I realize there's a lot that I can't fathom or imagine...and having this hoarding disease is one of them.  I personally am affronted by clutter...I dunno, maybe it's a Feng Shui thing, but piles of useless junk are just piles of negativity for me.  But, hating the mess and actually clearing it out are two totally unrelated ideas.  Sometimes, I feel so overwhelmed...that I do nothing about it.

Now, though, I think watching 'Hoarders' will provide any future impetus I might need.  My house is millions of times better than the ones on the show, but at 9:05 tonight, after all children were in bed, I could see nothing but MESSY CHAOS!  So, my husband and I were impelled to do some work. The office, our bedroom, my bathroom, the kitchen counters/cabinets all received definite benefits. 

I guess that hour in the front of the television tonight wasn't a total waste!

16 September 2011

Get Better, Not Bitter

Today's entry title comes from a newly-popular mantra here in my hometown.  See, we have a local boy (Tyler Sash) getting ready for his rookie year in the NFL.  And this Get Better Not Bitter motto has become his catchphrase, recently emblazoned on various apparel items for purchase here in town...which were snapped up faster than walking tacos at my dinner table.  The general idea, I presume, to not let life be a downer, but to work everyday to get better, as it were.

And while I'm all about local youth making something of themselves, I'm not really a jump-on-the-bandwagon type of person.  Thus, I have not purchased a GBNB shirt.  I simply haven't felt the need.  I can admire the idea without wearing the sweatshirt, right?

But, I would like to illustrate how this very mantra has woven itself into my life recently.  Last night, I attended a company picnic with several other family members, and a cousin of mine, who is a current senior at the local high school, asked me if I missed teaching there.

Naturally, I gave a pat, nondescript answer at the time.  Because, really, the truth might have hurt.  Even myself.

The answer to the question is no.  I don't.  I surely thought I would.

However, I should clarify - I do miss my colleagues. 

Hm.  Wait.  I miss one quite regularly, and about three on an intermittent basis.

I do not miss the kids.  At all.  And here's why.

This cousin of mine is enrolled in Advanced Chem (of her own volition, mind).  She does a fair bit of complaining (especially on facebook) about how hard it is, how demanding the teacher is, etc.  Also, this rant is sprinkled with typical 18-year-old remarks about graduating, getting out of town, etc.  The grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side syndrome.

And that conversation led to this epiphany: for all the character-education and self-esteem-building we have done for our kids, we've left out this one very important lesson:  doe your worke with a chearfull harte ... as they might have said in early American times.  Bless my cousin, she's going to tough out Adv Chem, because she knows it's academically good for her...but her bitter heart isn't going to change the class, the teacher, or difficulty.

In general, the art of being cheerful is quite a lost one, I think.  The mindset begins when people have perspective, that idea that somewhere, someone is in a tougher, rougher spot than they.  When they've got a grip on that very simple idea, their hearts can begin to go about the business of living on a wave of buoyancy.

Maybe it's not fair to expect 18-year-olds to master that skill.  But I still want them to do it anyway. 

So, that's probably why I don't miss the kids yet.  My expectations of them, and what they actually do don't add up very well.  Get Better, Not Bitter, right?  That's why I resigned last spring.  And that's why I prefer working with college students. 

12 September 2011

Maori Proverb and The Divine

"Turn your face to the Sun, and the shadows fall behind you."

I discovered this delightful peach as I was browsing through The Goddess Pages.  And right now, it seems to resonate deeply with me.

If you've read my blog for any length of extended time and especially in the last year, you know I've struggled with maintaining a positive outlook.  Negativity easily creeps into my existence, and many times I lose the battle between good and evil.

It's no surprise that I now see shades of this in my own children.  Fighting, antagonizing, whining, complaining...behaviors I know might be part of a stage or phase...but are more likely the result of modeling.  And my part in it was revealed clearly only after an unbiased third party made an innocuous comment about my kids' behavior.

So - action must be taken.  Last night, I prayed.  To whom is irrelevant, but to one who might understand the current predicament I am in.  I asked for patience and calmness.  And then I asked again.

Today, I think I was rewarded.  I felt like a much more a calm wind today, much less tempestuous.  I caressed my children, interacted with them, reminded them of our expectations, etc.  Only once was my patient demeanor tested...and that was with a college student!

The Maori proverb is just awesome because it's just so true.  Look for the light, and the shadows fade.  Look for the beauty in life, and the negative crap dissipates.

06 September 2011

Amateur Poets Take World By Verse

On a silly whim tonight, my husband and I wrote poetry.

Two things about this: I'm teaching poetry in a couple of college classes, so this activity falls under the category of "research".  Also, we've been at the bottle of Luccio Moscato.

Enjoy...and don't be surprised if you find us in next month's issue of some highfalutin' poetry journal.

We started simple: HAIKU, topic: WINE


Floating, up, down, fly.
I wonder if butterflies
like red, white, or dry.


Pale bubbling gold.
Apple sweet but not peachy.
Another glass, please?

Then, it was onto QUATRAINS, topic: NATURE


Oh, no-tail squirrel!
I see how you dance,
how you twirl.
Do you think this is France?

***We laughed heartily at this one***


Oh, how I love September!
Its vibrant sun and clear blue sky,
I can't help but remember.
I wear a jacket with a content sigh.

Finally, the most difficult - SONNET, topic: CHILDREN


Pleading, needing, I cry.
Rested, contented, I sigh.
Crawling, climbing, I reach,
Looking, listening, you teach.
How you so easily forget
we were so perfectly met.
I run, I jump, I play,
I walk, I talk, I say.
Things that hurt
cover me like dirt
that makes me wonder why
you decided to conceive this guy.
I reach out to say I'm sorry
and you hug, squeeze, and love me.


What can prepare you
for the birth of a baby?
Despite all the classes,
at best, you're a "maybe".
Nobody makes it clear
that it's going to hurt a lot
and that your wildest fear
is becoming the parent you're not.
Don't think you'll revert
back to your nights of sleep.
Every sigh keeps you alert,
you'll hear every single peep.
Yet, time passes, and we forget the pain.
and again we choose not to abstain.


05 September 2011

Glass of Moscato, Wasted!

"When the wine flows, so doth the wit."  - HD Nelson

I was just minutes, nay, seconds, away from a beautiful, wonderful recap of my holiday weekend when I reached for my glass of wine...when I saw...

Drat!  A Gnat!
How about that?

Being nearly ten o'clock on a school night, I opted not for a repour after the dumping.  Instead, I will soldier on with my blog post, although I'm sure it will be driest, lamest, boringest blog entry ever...being bereft of the grape influence.

We took our children (all four of them) camping this weekend with my husband's parents.  Jaycob had never been, so we showed him how we do it, American-style.  My father-in-law brought his boat, and so we went tubing on the lake.  I thoroughly enjoyed laughing at the bounces and bobbles every one of my kids took on that tube.  My in-laws also discovered what an eater Jaycob is (six walking tacos!), not to mention how sound of a sleeper he is.

There are times when I really, really like my in-laws...and this happened to be one of those weekends.  We were able to maintain excellent bonfires...due to my FIL's ability to reuse coals from the night before AND because he is the primary source of 'Good Wood'.  Also, when I accidentally dropped my coffeepot and it shattered, he went straight away to make a pot for both of us.  In addition, he helped Brent solve an electrical problem on our camper.

In short, he is a very practical guy...good to have around, you know?  If he were a Smurf, he'd be Handy Smurf.

31 August 2011

Beowulf The Brave...and Accessible

First up on the homeschool reading lineup was this masterpiece right here.

You'll notice, clearly, the words 'new verse translation'.  There was no way I could assign the Anglo-Saxon Old English version, because: a.) I've never read that version myself (my shame as an English major) and b.) Old English looks like this >

I see 'Beowulf' and 'Grendel' in there, and that's about it.  I do know that the characters that look like a funky p are actually 'th' sounds.

Other than that, yeah.  It looks like Greek to me.

Beowulf was a great way to start the school year.  Interesting from the get-go, the first battle happens about 25 pages in (which is quick reading, being an epic poem and all).  Beowulf rescues a kingdom in Denmark from a demon named Grendel.  The battle is excellent, with descriptions the walls shaking and thrashing, until finally Grendel receives a "tremendous shoulder wound"...during which there is the snapping of sinew.

YES!  What 12-year-old boy wouldn't dig that?

The storyline itself is exciting and fast-paced and right to the point, but what I find interesting is the cultural aspect.  What did Middle Age Anglo-Saxons prize in their leaders?  Bravery, strength, battle prowess.  Those qualities reappeared often throughout the poem.  In fact, Beowulf sums it up nicely:

...Let whoever can
win glory before death. When a warrior is gone,
that will be his best and only bulwark (1384-1389)...

At one point, Spencer wanted to know why descriptions of people were repeated so often (the ring-giver, Shield-Dane, etc.).  Well, I instructed my young Padawan, the repetition is so that the crowd (who is listening to the story) will remember those important details.  After all, 'Beowulf' isn't just some fanciful sci-fi fantasy yarn...it's a lesson.  It entertains and instructs - teaching young people of that time period WHO to emulate.  In fact, the unknown narrator states one of the valuable lessons rather succinctly:

...Behaviour that's admired
is the path to power among people everywhere (20-25)...

I was extremely pleased with Heaney's translation.  Although I can't say I care for his lengthy and sesquipedalian (new word today = related to using big words) introduction, his take on the poem was great.  Descriptive and vivid.  I didn't feel like I was reading poetry, which, I dunno, maybe that's bad...but I like how it reminds us of the eternal cycle of life and death, and the ways we live our life and who for. 

28 August 2011

Poem For Brent


You cut your hair,
I see gray at the temple.
You let it grow long,
it’s still there.

Either way, it’s sexy to me.

Your eyes crinkle more now
when you smile or laugh
(which is not often enough).
That decades-old scar on your chin
has become part of your natural lining.

I could watch your profile all day.

The important parts of you
have gotten better, or
they’ve stayed exactly the same.
You know what I’m talking about.

Fifteen years have gone fast,
and you are timeless.

26 August 2011

Je Ne Sais Quoi

This expression is French for "I do not know what".

And that is about how I'm feeling right now. 

There are many things pulling me in some different directions, and I feel a definite loss of control.

For one, I can't help thinking that everyone else in the entire world is out doing something super-fun.  And I'm missing out, so I'm compelled to try and "keep up with the Joneses" so to speak.  We received the email tonight about auditions for the children's theatre, and I felt that wormy prickle of obligation  Because why?  Because I want to continue to feel like a part of an elite group of theatre moms?  Because I'm afraid of falling out of favor with the director?  Because I want my kids to be active and creative?  Because they really, really want to?

Second, I think I am having major doubts about everything.  What I want to believe is that staying home, baking bread, homeschooling, hosting a foreign exchange student, how I'm raising my children is the perfect, right thing to do for all members of my family.  But, I have no clue about all that.  Spencer has friends he probably should call - to invite over and keep in touch with - but we're so wrapped up in school and our foreign exchange student to have the energy to do it.  So, is he really losing out socially then?

It's late, and my mind tends to brood more at this time of the day.  Things seem more dire around midnight.  I hope to wake up tomorrow and have solutions and plans of action.

24 August 2011

At The Helm of the Ship of Insanity

This most certainly is going to be a year I will never forget!  How does one come by circuitous paths to these interesting points in life.  We are:

1. Six days into life with our new foreign exchange student.
2. Nine days into the homeschooling year.
3. Four days into the new school year (for the two youngest).
4. Two days into the new school year (for me).

Sheer craziness, yes.  A new school term always brings with it that sense of imbalance...that feeling that we need to get some kind of routine around here.  The routine will come (I hope).  Brent and I have remarked that nothing we do these days is without purpose, without conscious thought and direction.  Nothing is autopilot around here anymore.

I have a million bajillion things I'd like to talk about...but unfortunately, all I have the energy for tonight is curling up in bed with a little Seamus Heaney, who has been kind enough to translate Beowulf from Old English for me.

21 August 2011

Hm. End of Summer. What?

First of all, where are all my followers?  Should I contact missing persons or something?

Second of all, school starts tomorrow.  My two youngest and the foreign exchange will head off to the wide world of public school.  Is it terrible parenting that I'm looking forward to it?

Maybe.  But then, I see some overly, inappropriate enraged parent berating their kid at the local Wal-Mart for something I think is a trifle...and then I don't feel so bad.  For obvious reasons, it's good Jaycob is going to high school, it's the whole reason he's here.  Part of the American experience.  For the younger two, it's also good.  We have had nothing but positive experiences here at the elementary in town, and there's no alarming reason to pull them out for homeschooling.  Actually, Spencer is dual-enrolling - he'll be taking Industrial Tech and Orchestra at the middle school.

And honestly, my three kids are in need of some space and their "away" time.  And they will all get it.  Then, I start back to work/class on Tuesday, and that'll be my away time.  And hopefully, when we all come back together, we will appreciate what home means a little more.

Have a good week, all.

18 August 2011

Gifts From Korea

In the homeschool department, today was the best yet...and only a smidge of that is because because Spencer worked efficiently and was done (for me) by noon.

I enjoyed the discussion with him regarding the composition he'll write tomorrow.  We outlined it today, and I really got a kick of hearing him give details about Archimedes, Greek Fire, the Ottoman Turks, Constantinople...I mean, he really chatted it up!  How that loquaciousness will translate into a well-written essay, though, I don't know.

If you read Spencer's blog for today, you'll know how excited he was about the science experiment.  Even I'll admit it was fun to do.  Talk about hands-on - we've had three days of science this week and we've done three experiments.  None of them required more than simple household items. 

Then, it was homeschool-to-go, as Brent conducted his math lesson in the car ride to Des Moines International Airport.  That's right, the new foreign exchange student arrived today.  He was pleased to see us, but exhausted.  He slept most of the way home, actually, only waking up when we stopped for take-and-bake pizza.

The poor kid.  He got a brief tour of the house before we shuttled him off to the elementary school, where the two youngers had Meet The Teacher night before school starts next Monday.  Then, it was finally time for dinner, followed by a hilarious round of Apples to Apples (Spencer won, but Jaycob came in second).  Right before bedtime, Jaycob presented all of us with gifts from Korea...and the kids were just so excited!  Stickers for Korea!  Trinkets from Korea!  Puzzles from Korea!  Chopsticks from Korea!  A fan from Korea!  Korean writing!

They had a hard time getting to bed, that's for sure.

Tomorrow, we tackle the juggernaut that is high school registration.

17 August 2011

Today, I Remember Socrates...

...and his wise, wise immortal words: all I really know is that I know nothing.

Most of you regular readers here know I'm homeschooling my son for the first time ever.  We started class on Monday.

I went into this thing with delusions of grandeur, let me tell you.  First, I thought very highly of my son's academic abilities...all the data and numbers seemed to indicate that I had a very bright child indeed. 

And while I do believe I have a intelligent child, what he was measured with causes me concern.  I assumed he would know how to take notes (a simple outline) and be able to pick out major plot events in a novel he was reading.

He didn't.  Whether that means he did learn it at one point and it didn't stick, or he never learned it, I don't know.  It doesn't matter.  We've got to get back to basics.  So, I assigned him a crossword puzzle today in lieu of reading his novel.  Each clue was embedded within a sentence; the puzzle was designed with comprehension in mind.  As he mentioned in his blog today, there were some difficult clues...but still it took him most of the morning to finish it.

I thought, as a public school teacher with twelve years' experience under my belt, I'd just waltz in, give my kid some work, do a little instruction, then he'd get right to it, and awesome learning would take place.  As it turns out, these things are happening, but at a slower pace than I'd imagined and after my tweaking on my part. 

But, here's the reason I'm doing it.  Yesterday, Spencer checks out this book from the library: Science Goes To War.  He's doing his history composition on Greek Fire, and there's some information on it in this book.  So, today, he reads and takes notes on the two pages (out of 288) he'll need for his essay.  I figure he's done after that...but no, he spends a couple of hours tonight with his nose in it!  He's reading it when I come down to say goodnight!  He then proceeds to tell me that it's "getting really good now".

And that's the one amazing thing (today) about homeschooling.  He's excited about learning again.

15 August 2011

A Busy Day, A Good Day

I know those two things do not always correlate, but in my case, today, they did.

It was an early up this morning, and Spencer and I went out for breakfast...just he and I.  A little pre-school kickoff, I guess.

The, it was back home and the beginning of the first day of school.  He chose to tackle history first.  Mondays are a history-heavy day, and especially the first day...well, his reading/notes/outlining/timeline work MUCH longer than I anticipated.  As in...he did not finish it all until about fifteen minutes ago.  :) 

But, here's already a side benefit I've discovered about this whole homeschool thing.  He does his schoolwork in the way he wants.  For example, the reason history took him so long is because he'd stop after awhile, work on vocab, logic, math, etc.  Then he'd come back to it.  Talk about being able to manage tasks!

However, there is already a snag in the road.  Brent and Spencer sat down for math and discovered that we may have the wrong book (in fact, it's very likely).  He understood everything in the book, even the concepts at the end.  But, it's a good problem to have...much like having to buy a new pair of jeans - the next size down.  Actually, I think Brent was more disjointed by the math snafu than Spencer was.

I figured I'd need to walk Spencer through his work, and I did, but I also answered a lot of random questions that came my way too.  Another great thing I discovered is that Spencer is much more free to engage in conversation about topics/assignments he's working on.  Also, whenever questions came up, and they did (where exactly is Anatolia?  Why were the Crusaders trying to capture Constantinople?  Michael VIII was a Christian emperor.), Spencer could take a quick break to the computer or book to find out.

So, in short, the kid was busy today.  It was a great day, actually. 

Now me.  I baked a loaf of bread, cleaned a ceiling fan, finished a college syllabus, got laundry caught up, made granola for Elliot, and did some shopping for the foreign exchange student.  On top of all that, we have guys running in and out of our house, putting an egress window in downstairs.

After Spencer updates his blog here in a few minutes, I shall unwind with a couple of episodes of 'Glee'...season two.

Looking forward to tomorrow.

14 August 2011

And Away We Go!

I use this metaphor every year at the beginning of a new school year: the roller coaster.  The jangling anticipation as you sit at the crest of the highest hill, waiting for the breathless descent to carry you, screaming, into the unknown.  The coaster zips you through ups and downs, until finally, you arrive, breathless again at the end.  And you wonder where the time went and how it could have gone so fast.

This family is sitting at that high point right now, waiting for the ride to painstakingly inch downward until it accelerates madly.

Spencer starts school tomorrow.  Kirby and Elliot start school a week from tomorrow.  Our foreign exchange student arrives Thursday.

It is the deep breath before the plunge.

If you would like, you are welcome to follow along with Spencer's school year...here at his blog Spencer's Homeschool Year.  It is posted through my account here at blogspot, but will be written and edited by Spencer himself.  He will be discussing the trials and tribulations of his unique year of education.

A happy week to you all!

10 August 2011

The Year of Discovery

Well, I think I am at the point here where I can disclose some fairly important details about the upcoming year.  It is shaping up to be a year of important discovery for our family...the following reasons:

1.  I've alluded to it here before, but I'll make the formal announcement now: I will be homeschooling my seventh-grade son next year.  It is scary and exciting all at the same time.  I truly feel my mettle as a teacher will be tested, and I look forward to the challenge.

My son happens to be a pretty smart kid, but not smart enough to meet the criteria in enrollment in most of the enrichment programs.  He does 8th grade math, but otherwise, he is in a classroom with average to low-performing students in his other classes, consequently, he wasn't being terribly challenged (which is the danger when teaching to the middle, most public school teachers' only option).  It also occurred to me that I knew absolutely nothing about my son as a learner.  Did he get right to work or did he have to be prodded to begin?  Was he one of the first ones?  Did he double-check his work?  Did he know how to take notes?  Well, I guess I'm no longer content to be ignorant and hope it all works out for him.

After researching, I opted for the Classical Education approach for Spencer's homeschooling...with some modifications of my own.  Ultimately, I value reading, great literature, note-taking, and critical thinking and reflecting in education, and an education based on the book The Well-Trained Mind appealed to me the most.  However, that was just the beginning.  I spent several weeks this summer researching curricula....and it is overwhelming.  Just a few days ago, I firmed up Spencer's reading list, and with that, had all the pieces in place to start the school year.  As it stands, this is his schedule and texts:

Science: Apologia - General Science
Math: Saxon 8/7
History: Kingfisher History Encyclopedia (combined with outlining, additional reading/research, and a weekly composition).  We will be covering the Medieval-Renaissance period (400-1600 AD).
Writing: Writing Strands, Level 3
Grammar: Combination of Holt and Glencoe Grammar, along with Easy Grammar Plus
Vocabulary, Wordly Wise 3000, Book 7
Logic: The Fallacy Detective and Thinking Toolbox
Reading: Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, Dante's Inferno, L'Morte D'Arthur, Sword in the Stone, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Shakespeare (He will read these intermittently with historical novels like Rolf and the Viking Bow, Catherine Called Birdy, The Samurai's Tale, The Emperor's Winding Sheet, etc.)

Doesn't that look fun?!  I think it does!

2.  We are hosting a foreign exchange student in our house this year.  He will be arriving on the 18th from South Korea (well, from his orientation at NYC, really).  I only knew one family personally that ever hosted, and those were my in-laws, who had a really bad experience.  Needless to say, I did not anticipate hosting...ever.  But, then we got a call about a week and a half ago.  the student seemed like a really good fit for our family: plays soccer, in orchestra, 15 years old, likes camping, board games, and reading.

Brent and I talked about, made a pro/con list, talked through solutions, and finally decided to go for it.  We figured the potential goods outweighed the potential bads.  As long as we kept the lines communication and our expectations clear, we could avoid everything but the freakiest of personality clashes.

So yeah, soon our family of five will be a busy family of six.  We've done some rearranging and outfitted a fourth bedroom for the student.  We've done a little reading about Korean culture, and I think all of us in general will be in for a little culture shock.  But...it could very well be the best experience of our lives.

And like my friend, Taoist Rose says, no matter what happens, we'll learn something.  And that is good.

01 August 2011

Time For a Turnaround in Temper

It's been a long time since I've had an alliterative blog title post.  And frankly, it is about time.

It was probably pretty damn clear in some of my past months' posts, but it's worth stating now: my attitude the last five months was piss-poor (whatever that means).  Okay, I didn't care much for my job and some of my relationships were off, so yeah, I inhabited a small cloud of negativity for much of the spring.  Then, school was out, and I thought the vibe would dissipate.  I visited the beautiful and sublime state of Alaska...and I thought I would get my groove back.

Wrong.  I returned home in mid-June to a seemingly insurmountable To-Do list.  Finish a yearbook, write and finesse three college-level syllabuses (and read the texts that went with them), prepare a homeschool curriculum, etc., etc., etc.  Oh, and involvement in a community theater play meant free evenings were a thing of the past.

It's no shocker really that, this summer, my attitude did not improve much.  I resembled that 'Peanuts' character Pigpen, except my cloud was composed of antipathy instead of dirt. 

And today, I had the moment...you know...that moment where you realize your crappy attitude is getting you nowhere.  It's getting you nothing, and the waste of energy on being pukey is absolutely mind-boggling and stupid.

I had the moment today...because I came across this quote, which popped up on my personalized Google page today.

"Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people."  - Eleanor Roosevelt

And I have been discussing people a lot lately.  In a not-so-great way, either.  But, it's going to change.  Because, again, not only does bitching about others get me nothing, it makes me a small-minded person.  And well, that's someone I don't really want to be.

In addition to the quote, I was reading a blog here earlier tonight, and the writer was discussing her tough financial times.  Her house is in desperate (like right now) need of a new roof, and then, this morning, her 22-year-old refrigerator went kaput.  So, this writer and her family now have to piece together some kind of patchwork financial plan to get what they need.

And I am reminded of how damn lucky I am.  So there.  Time to get better, not bitter.

25 July 2011

Lessons Learned From a County Fair

During one of the hottest weeks ever here on Iowa, I was sent out on special assignment by the newspaper I work for (that summer job).

Last week, I traveled out to homes or the county fair, interviewed various 4-H families, and wrote up a nice little feature on each one.  The paper would then include a full-page spread each day of the week, complete with pictures I'd taken during the interview.

The more interviews I did, the more people I talked to...the more I wanted to enroll my children in 4-H.  Why?

1.  Most the interviewees were prompt, on time, and very accommodating.  While I know this isn't probably a 4-H thing, it was still very refreshing.

2.  While not always the most articulate at times, all of the interviewees (ages 7-18) willingly spoke about their projects.  And they were always respectful.

3.  There was a pervading sense of responsibility among these young people.  Many of them were showing livestock, which required waking up early to feed, water, groom, etc.  These *are* teenagers, by the way.

4.  Many of the interviewees had a sense of humility.  They were without the obnoxious attitude of self-entitlement.  They understood the meaning of hard work.

There's more, I'm sure, but what parent wouldn't want to enroll their children in a club that easily and naturally promotes the above ideals and attitudes?

14 July 2011

Carmageddon or the Coming of the Messiah?

I know I live on the edge of Tornado Alley.  I know the wicked wind sweeps across the frozen Iowa tundra in January.  I know my state's weather can turn on a flash-flood dime.  I know we've got endless cornfield and cows.  I know it seems like there's nothing to do here.

I sometimes grow exasperated with Iowa, and its conundrums and squabbling and backwardness.

But then...I realize I don't ever have to deal with this:


Headline #1

Headline #2

Headline #3

And so on.  A ten-mile stretch of some well-traveled highway is being closed down around Los Angeles this weekend for construction.  Huh.  Road construction happens every 2.3 seconds in America, and it's nothing radical.  But, in this case, it is a very big deal.  In fact, I've seen the following words used in the literature I've scanned:

End of the World
Impending Doom

Would I find these same words in the Book of Revelation?

12 July 2011

Morning Epiphanies

Two things...

First, I am taking a two-day class located in a town about a half-hour from where I live.  So, there's roughly an hour every day where I can, as the music group Depeche Mode says, "Enjoy the silence".  A kid-free, enclosed-in-my-lovely-automobile silence.

Usually, I listen to music.  However, I've found mornings are the worst time to do so, because of the slew of morning talk-show radio programs.  Not that I'm against talk-radio, but my experience has been that music stations have ridiculously inane morning talk-shows.

So, this morning, finding nothing satisfactory on my preset music channels, I turn to National Public Radio.  I know, I know.  Many of you long-time NPR fans out there are welcoming me to the light, and are wondering why I'd never tuned in before.  I *knew* NPR existed, but I dunno, I just never got the bug.

But I might have this morning.  It occurred to me, as I'm listening to discussion about Italy's failing economy, rebellion in Syria, and a vegetable co-operative in St. Louis, that there's a whole other world out there that I know nothing about.  Talk about perspective.  Diabetics in Syria are having troubles getting necessary medication because of the border clashes, and I'm worried about writing an American Lit syllabus?

Here's what I'm glad of this morning.  I have access to food, shelter, gas, and medical attention.  Many people in the world do not.  As much as I lament about my relationships (all of them), at least I don't have to worry about anyone I care about being blown up by a land mine.

I'm lucky.  I need to start being more grateful.  Epiphany #1.

As I rushed out the door this morning, I forgot to pack the piece of fruit that allays the mid-morning munchies.  A stop at the gas station rendered nothing.  Sure, there was plenty of sweets and carbs for sale, but no wholesome fruit.  I was desperate.  I spotted a bottle of Muscle Milk on the cooler shelf, and thought, what the heck, milk could be a snack, right?!

Wrong.  On the bottle of the Muscle Milk Light I purchased, in small print, were these words "Contains No Milk."  Whaaaaaaat?  Surveying the list of ingredients turned up such gems like: Digestive resistant maltodextrin, sodium hexametaphosphate, medium chain triglycerides.  This is complicated chemistry at its best.  I should have stopped right there, set the bottle on fire in protest, and run screaming from the store to contact my congressman.

But, I did not.  I read the clever marketing message on the side of the bottle, with the final slogan: Drink. Evolve.  And that hit me where it hurt.  Of course I want to evolve.  So I buy the Muscle Milk.

Epiphany #2.  Not only is Muscle Milk a weird chemical hodgepodge in milk's clothing, it also tastes sweetly horrible.  It's the arsenic-sugared cookies from the book "Flowers in the Attic".  I was strongly reminded of those heinous protein/Atkins bars...cardboard dipped in corn syrup, rolled in some nut-like protein binder, and coated in a chocolate-like caseinate substance.

So now I know.  And now you know.

11 July 2011

Some Summer

The summer of 2011 is half-over!  And I still have so much to do!

I did resign from the high school, so that Yearbook job is now off my plate.  I told you all that, right?

Anyway, I have three syllabi to rework/create for the college job.  One is for an Early American Lit class, which I am looking very forward to teaching...once I create the syllabus.  One is a freshmen Composition Lab, which the department has restructured, and that means I just need to tweak my syllabus.  The other class is a Composition 2 class, and for that, I need to read "The Paradox of Choice" and work it into my already existing syllabus. 

I'm also writing for the newspaper this summer, taking classes to renew my teaching license, developing my son's homeschool curriculum, and trying to stay afloat with various writing projects.


Yes, stress.

Anyway, here's the thought that will carry me...at least for today.

Now that I will not be at the high school in the fall, I will have two leisurelyish mornings before I start at the university to cook a nice, big, nourishing breakfast for my children and establish a routine for my homeschooled middle schooler.

Life is good - today!

04 July 2011

Decision to Homeschool: Informing the Grandparents

As a public school educator, homeschooling never entered my list of educational options.  Growing up, I knew no kids that weren’t public school-educated, and homeschooling was something reserved for the uber-religious.  As an adult, the handful of homeschooled kids I knew seem to be quiet at best, painfully maladjusted at worst.  Usually, us teachers would be a little offended…if public school was good enough for us, why wasn’t it good enough for those kids?

Then came the news that my sister-in-law was going to pull my niece out of school.  Talk about hitting a little closer to home.  I checked my sister-in-law’s homeschooling journey with interest, and I admit, a growing skepticism.  Then, my Air Force-serving brother received new orders, and the entire family relocated to Alaska.  My niece was enrolled in public school, and I figured the homeschool phenomenon was over.

Then, last fall, concerns over my niece’s education and social life grew to the point that she was pulled out of the public school yet again.  And again, I watched the entire process with smug suspicion.

But then, towards the end of this last school year, my own sixth-grade son expressed a desire to be homeschooled.  I was stunned, but eventually chalked it up to end-of-the-year fatigue. 

However, the seed had been planted, and I looked forward to my Alaska vacation with a newfound interest – I’d really get the ins and outs of homeschooling.

And, boy howdy, did we ever.  Not that I can recall every single conversation we had with my brother and sister-in-law, but it certainly made a lasting impression.  The idea gained momentum in our household, and soon, there I was, making a decision I thought I would never, ever make.

We were going to homeschool our middle schooler.  Yikes.

Our decision to do so came as no real surprise to my mom, who was privy to many of the Alaska conversations.  When we informed my dad of our choice, he only had one question: How’s he going to learn about real life?

My response: Dad, what “real life” do you mean?  The cheating-on-tests, getting-drunk-at-the-Senior-Picnic, dating-drama, jocks-and-skanks real life?  I think I’m okay if my son misses out on that stuff and just goes to school for the sole purpose of academics.  There will be plenty of other “real-life” opportunities for him long before college (school extra-curriculars, part-time jobs, clubs and organizations).

After that, there have been no objections from that parental corner (so far).  This weekend, we told my husband’s parents.

Father-in-law:  I dunno.  I just don’t think I’d be qualified to teach my own kids.

My response: Really?  You teach them to ride a bike, to catch a fish, drive a car?  You teach them manners, respect of their elders, what’s right and wrong?  And you feel ill-qualified to homeschool them?

Mother-in-law: Well, I guess it makes some sense.  You both have educational degrees.

My response (all internal): I won’t read too much into that comment.  Otherwise, I might take it to mean that you’re only okay with us homeschooling because we’ve got the right “education”.  If we didn’t, would we be unqualified?

Mother-in-law: He’ll miss out on socialization, won’t he?

My response: No.  He’s in the school orchestra, soccer, and after-school theater.  Socialization is actually the last thing I’m worried about.

And after that, the issue died.  So, while neither set of parents is hip-hip-hooray excited for this new turn of events, neither of them is throwing up huge hissy fits about it, either.  Which, ultimately, is pointless, since it’s our life, our children, and our choice.

03 July 2011

Big Changes Coming

I have been absent for several days.  My humble apologies.

In some ways, I've felt as if I have nothing important to say.  I have no major epiphanies, no major insights, and my summer so far (halfway gone now!) has passed by in such an uneventful manner that your IQs would decrease immensely if I were to blog about it here.

But I think today I may have something to report on.  Today we attended church (two Sundays in a row!), and the service was titled "Freedom = Slavery".  Usually, when I am listening to the pastor speak, I try to fit the sermon's message into a context that means something to me...because frankly, the Bible usually doesn't.

So, during the service, I began to think about everything I consider a freedom that might also be construed as an enslavement.

1.  Food.  So many supermarket choices to the point of stress.
2.  Clothing.  It's great that I get to wear what I want, but I am also limited by my gender, my age, my profession, etc., and the limitations that accompany each.
3.  Speech.  Yes, I can say what I want, but it comes with conditions.
4.  Cell phone/cable service/insurance company etc.  Ooh.  Companies competing for my business, and I have the freedom to choose.  Awesome.  However, having freedom to make all these choices mean I have to research the best one.  Suddenly, I am a slave to information.

And there are many more, I have no doubt.  The issue is very complicated, because no, I don't want to give up my freedom.  But, the word 'freedom' has lost its meaning, and people bandy it about meaninglessly.  Here are two specific examples of how I am meeting 'freedom' head on.

* We are back on the no-restaurant kick.  First of all, we've spent far too much money on eating out.  Second, Brent and I have not lost those extra pounds we gained in Alaska...so maybe omitting restaurants will provide the impetus for weight loss.  It's time to get back in the kitchen and the habit of meal-planning.  So, yes, we're taking back a little control of our nutritional health.

* While I've enjoyed the freedom of educating my children in the way I want, I have not taken full advantage of what that really means.  As a public school educator, I always wondered what happened to students (especially males) between elementary (when they were so excited to learn) and high school (when they definitely were not).  Now, as the parent of a middle school child, I knew.  The non-rigor of a middle school classroom.  My son had two study halls a day, which he did not need.  He was a grade ahead in math, but was bored silly in some of his other classes.  He was frustrated at the time he spent in a seat, all day long.  He was frustrated by classmates who did not take academics seriously.  Frankly, he was becoming mediocre.  The public school system is set up to meet the needs of the students in the middle...not my son's.

And really, we have the time, we have the financial stability, we have the resources, why shouldn't/couldn't we do something about it?  The laws here in America allow me considerable freedom to educate my child - so why am I letting someone else do it?  It concerned me (now more than ever, really) that my son disappeared into a brick-and-mortar for eight hours a day, and I had no idea of exactly what happened in there, academically speaking.

And so, in light of all these questions and discussions and ruminations, it is very highly likely we will homeschool our oldest son next year.  Who better to educate him than I and his father?  I can't say what will happen for sure or how long we'll do it, it's just going to be one year at a time.

There, that's my bombshell.  I've actually wanted to blog about it here several times in the last couple of weeks...but I wasn't feeling it.  I don't know why.  Perhaps admitting it here now really, truly makes it a reality...instead of a hypothetical situation.

Scary stuff, this being free thing.

16 June 2011

First Pool Day of the Summer

Hey, a day in Iowa without rain!  It's a sign of the impending Rapture obviously.

We have had one damn rainy month here, and today seemed like the first *real* day of summer.  You know, that hot, yellow ball in the sky and the bubbling humidity just waiting to ooze forth?

So, in my family, that means POOL TIME!  Yessiree, we were off to the local swimming hole.

I wish I had new insights to regale you with, but alas, I do not.  Instead, I will cross-reference you to this post...it pretty much contains the same thoughts, ruminations, occurrences, etc.  Just change anything that says 2010 to 2011.

Summer Fashion Trends! - June 19, 2010

12 June 2011

My Blog's Title Really Means Something Right Now!

I have returned home to Iowa after nine days in Alaska.  While it's true that there's no place like home, sometimes there are other places like nowhere else on Earth.  While I could spend several pages detailing the sublime beauty of Alaska, I won't.  Your time is precious, as is mine, so I will leave you with some highlights and photographs.

* The state is Alaska is huge.  HUGE.  Unimaginably huge for an small-state dweller like myself.  In fact, take a look at this graphic I found online at marciesalaskaweb.com:

Yeah.  I know, right?  Lengthwise, the entire state is the same as all of the lower 48.  Here's what that means: driving anywhere is not a ten or fifteen-minute ordeal.  We're talking hours.  My brother (whom we were there to visit) lives near Fairbanks.  We flew into Anchorage.  To pick us up, they drove seven hours.  We drove 3.5 from Anchorage to Seward to catch the Kenai Fjords Cruise.  We drove 4.5 hours from Anchorage to Denali National Park.  Then, another 2.5 from Denali brought us to Fairbanks.  Then, we did it all again at the end of the vacation.  Also, Alaska is a primitive state in many ways, not fraught with twisted highways systems and whathaveyou.  Most of the western part of the state is traveled to via planes.  One highway took us from Anchorage to Seward and from Anchorage to Fairbanks.  And, Alaska's roads are nothing like I-80 or similar with its endless flat expanses...it's windy, hilly, and surrounded by trees and mountains.  You don't really drive at 90 mph lest a wayward moose decides to cross at that time.

* However, the drive may be longer...but it's much more beautiful than anything I-80 could pony up.  Especially, the Seward Highway...sandwiched right in there between the Chugach Mountains and Turnagain Arm (of the Cook Inlet).  I lost count of how many forest-covered mountains we rounded to a spectacular view of low-hanging clouds and snow-covered peaks.  Honestly, there wasn't any place I didn't travel in Alaska that was ugly (of course, bear in mind that I only saw a fraction of the place).

* Speaking of ugliness, there isn't much of it in Alaska - want to know why that is?  Because the people and the state are all about PRESERVATION.  Denali National Park and Reserve, for instance, is a six million acre government-protected piece of land.  One road runs 92 miles into the entire park and only 15 miles of that can be traversed by private vehicles (e.g. you and me).  Otherwise, you pay for a tour bus.  You see, here's a state that puts the ecosystem first, instead of humans.  Kind of awesome, really.

* Sure, though, there are urban areas.  Anchorage is home to about 300,000 people (my state's capital and largest city, Des Moines, only has 200,000ish).  Then, the next largest city?  Fairbanks at 32,000.  Then, third, the state's capital, Juneau, at 30,000.  Apparently, urbanness is relative.  Fortunately, Alaskans don't really give much a flying hoot about this.  Anchorage is home to an actual skyline, many shopping malls, fast-food joints, car dealerships, etc...so yeah, get that idea of igloo living out of your head.  However, for my brother, it would be a seven-hour drive from Fairbanks to a Best Buy, Target, or Kohl's.  It would be even more (way more) for folks who lived in Nome or Prudhoe Bay or Barrow.

* Your natural body's rhythm stands to be totally screwed up in Alaska.  The summer solstice is not until June 21, and yet, we still wore sunglasses at midnight.  That means the daylight hours are still growing!  It's easy to lose track of time...and no big deal to still be up and about and outside at a time when most of the lower 48ers are in bed.  And I totally get it.  When many Alaskans deal with insane hours of darkness and cold temperatures a significant part of the year, it makes total sense that they'd take advantage of the long days.

* Moral of the story?  Go.  You should.  There are many things I saw and did that will imprint themselves in my mind and heart forever.  And while I love a larger-than-life city like Las Vegas (Alaska's total opposite), the wilderness and quirks of The Last Frontier inspire the same kind of awe, but I dunno, they do it in a pure, right way.

Anyway, before I get too Thoreau on you, here's just a sampling of the vistas:

The sun tries to make an appearance along the scenic stretch of the Seward Highway.

A view to the world below from a hilltop at Denali National Park.

Mountains, trees, and water - in one go - Kenai Peninsula.
These types of views were all too common (and yet still stunning) in Resurrection Bay - Seward.

06 June 2011

Alaskan Insights

Just finishing up day four here in the Alaskan wilderness...and while I'm not saying I've been everywhere and seen everything, I do believe I feel a bit wiser.

Case in point:

1. It's quite an adjustment to go out for a walk at ten o'clock PM...and have to wear sunglasses. But it's an environmental change I find I am growing used to.

2. however, this radical change can take a toll. I sure am not the spring chicken I thought I used to be. But, it's all good.

3. Alaska is a beautiful state. I have thoroughly enjoyed the scenery...there is nothing like it on Earth to me. I believe I could live here...June through August, anyway.

4. My sister-in-law is a talented wheeler and dealer, as well as a adequate couponer, and she has made this vacation most memorable for us. And yet, while she very much is into Extreme Couponing, I've decided I cannot emulate her. My husband, on the other hand, might...

5. I will never again complain about an hour drive from my hometown to a decent shopping center...not when my brother and his family have driven seven hour from Fairbanks to Anchorage to pick us up at the airport.

6. I underestimated the "je ne c'est pas" I would get from visiting my husband's city of birth upon arrival to Alaska. We shall now cross it off the bucket list. We may accomplish other dreams.

There may be more, but I shall leave off here.

31 May 2011

Nearly A Week Into Summer Vacation

I have been on summer break for almost a week.  Here's what I've done:

Camped over the holiday weekend.
Cleaned out/reorganized the craft/workroom. 
Scrubbed upstairs toilets.
Vacuumed nearly every room in the house.
Tidied up downstairs.
Completed all but one load of laundry.
Submitted twenty yearbook pages.
Ordered textbook samples for my college Am Lit class.
Run various odd-and-end errands.
Began and abandoned two books ("Glamorama" by Bret Easton Ellis and "Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony Bourdain)
Begun "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell

Tomorrow looks to be a fairly frantic day - it's The Day Before We Leave For Vacation.  You all know that day, right?  Pure, unadulterated craziness.

26 May 2011

Blue Skies, Green Flora

Today was the last day of school. 

When you're a teacher (or student), the world is seen through an entirely different lens on the last day of school.  I don't care if it's gloomy, overcast, or pouring down rain, things seem a lot brighter on the last day of school.  It *seems* like the sun is out, for sure.

Today, by a matter of circumstance, my children and I walked home from school.  About a five-minute walk, but it was really beautiful.  Bluest blue skies I'd seen in awhile and everything (and I mean everything) was green and verdant.  The laden-down backpack I was schlepping seemed filled with feathers!

Welcome summer!

25 May 2011

The Closing of a Door

After tomorrow, I bid adieu to my public-schoolteaching career...for the time being.

I graduated from college in 1998 and began my first teaching job in August of 1999.  I have taught middle school reading, sophomore literature, freshman English, yearbook, journalism, and more.  With the exception of a few months here and there I took off for maternity leave, I have been in public education for eleven years.

And now, I'm getting out.

It's been a sweet ride, really.  I shouldn't complain at all.  I've made some great friends and had some really great moments.  But, well, it's not enough anymore. 

So, tomorrow, I will be spending my last day with high school students.  It is a bittersweet thing, because really, I enjoy most students.  Yeah, I've got some real chowderheads, but there always are anyway.  But, I've noticed a disturbing trend - those who don't value their education is on the rise - and we've let them, even enabling it in some ways. 

And yeah, for all the technology we're infusing into schools these days, it hasn't improved communication very much.  In my experience, teachers are heard less and put upon more.  I wish more folks could understand this, but unfortunately, most parents are armchair quarterbacks - very willing to call the shots without really having any real field experience. 

And I don't think things are getting better.  Teachers are becoming complacently numb, or they leave the profession.

I am very lucky.  Financially, I can leave the school district and take a part-time job teaching at the college level; I know many of my colleagues don't have that luxury.  Don't think I don't count my blessings every day.

*Sigh*  I've known since late fall I wanted to resign my high school job.  I sent the actual letter in mid-April.  May 26th seemed so, so, so far away, though, at those times.  But, it's not.  It's tomorrow.  My lifepath will take a totally new direction.  All I want now is to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead with optimism, hope, and resolve. 

Those are things I've lose in the last three months.

21 May 2011

Getting a Grip on Graduation

This time of year means the season of graduation parties is among us.  Every year I am awed by the numbers...of people having them, of pounds of food, of cakes being made, invites being given out...everything.

A few teachers and I were discussing this very phenomenon a couple of days in the lounge during lunch.  One colleague wondered if parents would throw such elaborate shindigs for their child's college graduations.  I have no data to support my hypothesis, but I would venture to answer that question with a 'probably not'. 

Which is rather interesting, I think.  College graduation seems much more monumental than high school, I think, and therefore, worth a larger celebration.  However, for an eighteen-year-old, there is no greater highlight to their lives than graduating from high school.

Thoughts like these lead me to even more pensive ones, like: Is this part of the reason why I fear getting old?  Because we as a society seem to prize and place value on youth?  Now that I've graduated high school, college, am married, had all my babies...what else can I celebrate?  What other milestones are there?

The self-help section of the bookstore tells me: Life.  I'm supposed to find peace at this time of my life, and stability because I'm getting mature and wise.  I'm supposed to worry less about things and more about people, and I'm supposed to become reflective and discover who I am on the inside.  I know that it's not about getting what I want, it's wanting what I've got.  I'm supposed to remember the idea of perspective and that things could be worse.  There are a lot of books, magazine articles, websites, blogs, etc. that remind us that we don't need to envy the younger set...which makes me wonder why we're trying so hard to convince ourselves.

It's a process - I understand.  I do think I'm getting there (to wisdom).  But, I'm straddling that fine line, too, you know?  One foot here, one foot there.  I'm growing, and maturing, yes, but I'm also leaving things behind.  I'm finding it a bit painful.